"When I was younger, my mother always said I had selective hearing," the seminarian said in this morning's homily.
Selective hearing prickled at the edges of my memories. I felt a wave of sadness as I sat in the wooden pews, leaning up against my warm husband and holding his hand.
My back ached as I stood there, nodding and saying "Yessir" whenever my dad paused and waited for a response, waiting to find further fault in how we responded, if we were a half a second to early or late or didn't sound sincere enough.
"She would be talking to me and I'd be nodding, but my mind would be off, daydreaming." He carefully modulated his pace and tone as he undoubtedly recently learned in school, to gently keep our attention.
I think dad knew our minds wandered, seeking refuge anywhere it could find from the insults and put-downs and the shame and the scary, unpredictable anger of "how will he hurt us today?" At least he knew enough how to hurt without leaving visible bruises.
Daydreaming = disassociation.
I escaped into books. My brother? Into movies.
Requiring responses were my dad's way of maintaining control over our minds. Break down the mind before building it back up. You can't break down a mind that's not there. Re-education camp masters know this.
My Patronus was a big dog. I tried to superimpose it over a mental screenshot of the third Harry Potter movie, trying to recreate the dark, misty woods around me, but the sunny pink living room and dad's beet-red face, all the way up to his receding hairline--
--made it hard. I started building a brick wall instead, but it felt weak, so I tried fortifying it with sheet metal.
It kept dissolving away.
My eyes welled up, and tears broke free. He got what he wanted, and the purpley hue in his face faded to heirloom tomato red. I lost. Failed. The tears were mine, not his.
My eyes welled up a tiny bit as I sat in the pews, observing small details, like the thin wedding ring on the seminarian's hand, the texture of the hem of my jeans. This is grounding. I'm here instead, Not there.
I'm safe. I shouldn't cry, I told myself. People would get confused because it was an emotionally neutral homily. There was no reason for me to have...would you call it a flashback? And I didn't want to explain.
It was hard to escape into my mind when he raged, and took a lot of practice.
The seminarian must have had a happy childhood if all he did was easily daydream instead of actively scrunching up against a far corner of his mind, disassociating out of the reaches of damaging words.
It's hard to drag myself back out of the dark places of my mind and ground myself in the real world. It takes practice.
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," he ended, as we all instinctively did the sign of the cross.
Thank God. I needed to shake off the bad residual feelings to put on a happy face. I'm normal, as far as anyone can tell.
Filed under: Abuse